When Madeleine Kētēskwew Dion Stout was just seven years old, she developed an acute case of appendicitis. It marked a pivotal moment for the young Cree girl born on the Kehewin First Nation, Alta.
Having watched her uncle die from similar symptoms, Dion Stout’s parents immediately hitched their wagon and raced 10 miles in the ditch to the hospital. There, Dion Stout had an emergency appendectomy, and met someone she’ll never forget.
“The nurse who took me off the stretcher and put me on the operating table was the most gentle, lovely, freckled-face being,” Dion Stout said. “I had hardly ever seen a non-Indigenous person at that point in my life. She was quite angelic to me, with her big-winged white hat with the black ribbon in it, but also because of her gentle spirit and how she treated me so lovingly. When you meet someone who is ‘alien,’ it is natural to feel frightened, but she won my heart. Twelve years later, I was in nursing school.”
It was the first step toward a lifetime of outstanding achievements as a nurse, teacher and scholar making contributions to Canadian and Indigenous health care.
Western is recognizing Stout’s accomplishments with an honorary degree as part of spring convocation 2022. The doctorate stands among many other distinguished accolades, including the Order of Canada (2016), the National Aboriginal Achievement Award in Health (2010) and two national awards for nursing.
For the past four decades, Dion Stout’s work in health reform, education and policy has left an indelible mark on Canadian society. With each career step, which started after completing her RN at the Edmonton General Hospital in 1968 and continued as she earned her bachelor of nursing degree from the University of Lethbridge in 1982, Dion Stout has advanced the cause of providing inclusive and accessible health care for all Canadians. Her continued efforts provide a deeper understanding of the complexities in delivering equitable health care in the north, particularly with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.
She credits her grandfather as another early role model.
“He was my constant companion. I watched him as he whistled while he worked. He was so diligent at whatever he was doing. Our tools were rusty and antiquated, but he still used them to make many things. One lesson he taught me was, ‘the road to success is being educated, commands a lot of patience, and should also make you sing.’”
In 1983, Dion Stout was appointed special advisor on native issues to Monique Bégin, then federal minister of health and welfare.
“I attribute a lot of the positive steps in my career to Monique,” Dion Stout said. “Being one of her advisors made a big difference. She exposed me to the rest of Canada and because of her, I worked in different areas across the country as either a public health nurse, nurse researcher or professor.”
Two years later, she was appointed director of the Indian and Inuit profession health careers program. In 1993, she earned her master’s in international relations as the first director of the Centre for Aboriginal Education, Research and Culture (now Ānako Indigenous Research Institute) at Carleton University. Today, as the president of Dion Stout Reflections Inc., she adopts a Cree lens in her research, writing and lectures on Indigenous health.
Dion Stout said her most poignant memories come from watching the faces of survivors of Canada’s residential schools. A survivor herself, she spoke her truth at the national truth and reconciliation commission’s community hearings.
“The faces, and all those tears that were flowing, have impacted the way I look at where I came from. How tortuous it was, yet still, contributions were being made,” she said.
“I marvel at my people’s faces on the earth, that are sad, happy, resilient and forward-looking and their desire to hang on to the beautiful parts of our culture and carry on despite all the setbacks.” -Madeleine Dion Stout
Message to graduates
Dion Stout speaks across North America and Europe on topics relating to Indigenous health, healing and reconciliation, and looks forward to sharing her message with the Class of 2022, as approximately 8,000 students graduate in ceremonies that continue until June 23.
“I want them to understand that reconciliation is our new arena of struggle for all Canadians, not just for survivors like me.”
She’ll also be imparting some of her grandfather’s wisdom.
“The road to success comes from being educated and united,” she said. “It’s important to get an education, but also important to work with people who are most in need. There’s learning to be had on both sides.”